Male revolutionaries promptly rejected every call for equal rights for women. But their reactions in print and in speech show that these demands troubled their conception of the proper role for women. Now they had to explain themselves; rejection of women's rights was no longer automatic, in part because the revolutionary governments established divorce, with equal rights for women in suing for divorce, and granted girls equal rights to the inheritance of family property. In February 1791 one of the leading newspapers responded explicitly to Condorcet's article demanding equal political rights for women. The editor, Louis-Marie Prudhomme, restated the view, commonly attributed to Rousseau, that nature determined different but complementary roles for men and women. During the discussion of a new constitution in April 1793, the issue of women's rights came up once again. The spokesman for the constitutional committee restated the arguments against equal rights for women, but he admitted that deputies had begun to speak out in favor of women's rights. He cited in particular the pamphlet by Deputy Pierre Guyomar insisting that women should have the right to vote and hold office.

As the political situation grew more turbulent and dangerous in the fall of 1793, the revolutionary government became suspicious of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. The society had aligned itself with critics of the government who complained about the shortage of food. It also tried to intervene in individual cases of arrest and imprisonment. But the club did not readily give in to its opponents. One of its leaders, Claire Lacombe, published a pamphlet defending the club. Her pamphlet opens a window onto club activities.

Despite attempts to respond to the charges of its critics, the club ultimately fell victim to the disapproval and suspicion of the revolutionary government, which outlawed all women's clubs on 30 October 1793. The immediate excuse was a series of altercations between women's club members and market women over the proper revolutionary costume, but behind the decision lay much discomfort with the idea of women's active political involvement. On 3 November 1793, Olympe de Gouges, author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, was put to death as a counterrevolutionary, condemned for having published a pamphlet suggesting that a popular referendum should decide the future government of the country, not the National Convention. Two weeks later, a city official, Pierre Gaspard Chaumette, denounced all political activity by women, warning them of the fate of Marie-Jeanne Roland and Gouges, two of several prominent women who went to the guillotine at this time. The Queen was executed on 16 October 1793, after a short but dramatic trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal. Roland, one of the leading political figures of 1792–93—she was the wife of a minister and hostess of one of Paris's most influential salons—went to her death on 8 November 1793, even though she was a convinced republican. Her crime was support for the "Girondins," the faction of constitutionalist deputies that included Condorcet.

After the suppression of women's clubs, ordinary women still had to make their way in a difficult political and economic climate. The Terror did not spare them, even though it was supposed to be directed against the enemies of the Revolution. A letter from a mother to her son illustrates the problems of provisioning and the haunting fear of arrest; the son of this woman was, as she feared, arrested as a "counterrevolutionary" (an increasingly vague term) and guillotined not long afterward. Many ordinary women went to prison as suspects for complaining about food shortages while waiting in line at shops, for making disrespectful remarks about the authorities, or for challenging local officials.

After the fall of Robespierre in July 1794, the National Convention eliminated price controls, and inflation and speculation soon resulted in long bread lines once again. The police gathered information every day about the state of discontent, and they worried in particular about the increasing shortages of February and March 1795. Women egged men on to attack the local and national authorities. These disturbances came to a head in the last major popular insurrections of the Revolution when bread rations dropped from one and a half pounds per person in March to one-eighth of a pound in April–May and rioting broke out. The first uprising took place 1–2 April 1795 (12–13 Germinal, Year III). A more extensive one broke out 20–23 May (1–4 Prairial). In both, women precipitated the action by urging men to join demonstrations to demand bread and changes in the national government. On 20 May a large crowd of women and men, armed with guns, pikes, and swords, rushed into the meeting place of the National Convention and chased the deputies from their benches. They killed one and cut off his head. As soon as the government gained control of the situation, it arrested many rioters, prohibited women from entering the galleries of its meeting place and from attending any kind of political assembly or even gathering in groups of more than five in the street.

MALE SUPPORT

MORE ENCOURAGEMENT

TENSIONS WITH AUTHORITIES

BAN ON WOMEN'S CLUBS

THE TRIAL

REPRESSION

A HOPELESS EFFORT

ORDINARY CONCERNS / EXTRAORDINARY TIMES

APPEAL FOR JUSTICE

WOMEN AND BREAD

EVEN RADICALISM

INVASION

RIOTER INTERROGATED

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